It's 888 Miles to Chicago...
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Welcome to the NFC Championship game.  Too bad it’s on Thursday.  And on the NFL network.  What does that mean?  Well, the majority of NFL fans will miss the game of the week.  But don’t worry; there is more to life than just one game….there are 15 others!

Even though the stores have been playing Christmas music since Halloween was over…the true Christmas shopping season is in full swing now.  Ah, the holidays…such great memories…so much shopping…is there a more annoying place than a mall during December?

Before we dive headfirst into this week, let us take a quick peek at something from last week….

Due to illness (my daughter and wife) all the football watching was done from my own couch, which means no DirectTV.  Translation?  Stuck watching whatever the network gods deemed worthy.  What did that amount to?

The most boring weekend of football ever.

Nope, the local network decided to stay with the Vikings-Giants game to the bitter end.  Why?  Yes, Connecticut is near New York.  Yes, there are several Giants fans.  But is there a single Giants fan that really wanted to see the end of that game?  A 42-17 game is only fun if you’re the team with 42.  To everyone else it’s just painful. 

You’re saying “Josh, switch over to the other game.”

Already ahead of you… 

Jacksonville-Buffalo.

While it was enjoyable to watch a very good Jags team, this game had all the excitement of a warm glass of milk…it’s makes you feel warm, but what you really want is some chocolate syrup in it. 

Finally, after the Jags-Bills game was decided, they switched to the Hawks-Rams game…in time to see the Rams blow their last chance drive.  Wooohooo!

Then, hoping against all hope, that maybe, just maybe the Bears-Broncos game might be on…Chargers-Ravens.  Ugh. 

Another game where the outcome was never in doubt…fun.

Then there was there was the Pats game…while the game was close…never had a doubt that the Pats would pull it out. 

Finally, there was Monday night….wow…let me just state for the record, whenever a ball sticks in the grass like a lawn Jart, there are issues with the field.  What an ugly game….especially when I was counting on Big Ben to pull out my fantasy team…ugh.

But through it all, there was one thing that kept me going…one thing that kept my spirits high…one shinning light at the end of a dark tunnel… 

…all the Christmas commercials promising all the great gifts I’ll be getting!  Plus, all the suggestions of what to get my wife…looks like this Christmas might get a little pricey.

And so in honor of the Christmas season, this post is dedicated to the great consumer in every one of us!  Let’s get to those picks! 

Green Bay at Dallas

How many Lexus’ are actually bought for Christmas presents each year?

Seriously, who has 50k of free cash lying around to give one to their wife?  And if you don’t have the cash lying around, who in their right mind gives a gift of “Hey honey, here’s a gift we’ll go massively in debt for, and you’ll have to handle the payments for the next 5 years while it slowly drags us into the poor house….but hey, it’s a Lexus!” 

The Lexus commercials do 3 things…

Make wives/girlfriends think, “I wonder if my man loves me enough to get me a Lexus”.  They know it’s not practical, but it’s the thought...don’t fall into this trap guys. 

Makes us all think, “Man, guess I’m not living the American dream yet, can’t get a Lexus for Christmas”.

Finally, makes us think “Wait, who in the heck is buying a Lexus for Christmas?” 

Listen, I know a lot of people, some of them very well off financially…and no one I know has ever even thought of buying any car as a Christmas present…much less a Lexus.  But every year, those commercials come on; teasing us with what our life could be…or should be…according to the ad execs…at Lexus.

And then we get the game of the week on the NFL Network.  Just sitting there, teasing us with what “could be…should be…” according to some ad exec at the NFL.

The NFL sees this game as the perfect game to get the NFL Network on every Cable provider, and every household…but instead, what’s going to happen…a lot of great NFL fans will miss the game of the week, and will be quite upset that they have. 

Ah well…at least your wife can’t think “I wonder if my husband loves me enough to get the NFL Network”.

This game is going to hinge on Charles Woodson’s health.  If he goes, the Pack has the Defense to shutdown the Boys.  If he doesn’t…don’t know if they have the horses to get it done.  Either way, this one is going to be tight. 

Woodson will play…at least that’s what the tea leaves say…and the Pack will win a close one.  In the end, Favre will raise his game up, and that will get them over the hump.  But this game should be on par with the Colts-Pats game…too bad most of us won’t see it.

NY Jets at Miami

Back in college, I got a job at the local Best Buy.  It was a good job for the time, got me my start in computers…which has developed into quite a career…and made some friends that I still consider some of my best buds.  But the real gift of the job…the stories.  Retail and customer service jobs are the greatest for stories…and my position had both.  Yep, the Best Buy Tech bench was my home for way too many years… 

For Techs, the customer was a bit of a distraction…a common theme in customer service jobs…but for us, the customer was a source of entertainment.  A favorite game was trying to get another tech to lose it in front of a customer by saying ridiculous things.  One such incident…

A customer approached the tech bench, and I greeted him with a “What can I do for you?” 

While I was doing this, I noticed my fellow Tech, Reggie walk over an engage a fellow employ in a conversation.  Knowing that Reggie was going to attempt to throw me off my game, I focused on the customer…

“My computer won’t boot up.” 

“Well, let me take a look and see what might be the problem.”

“Man, I got really drunk last night…don’t know what happened…” 

“Was the computer making any noise?  Any lights come on?”

“No, nothing…just sat there dead.” 

“Okay let me get this hooked up and…”

“…So I’m balls deep in this sheep…” 

That’s when I lost it.  My concentration was gone.  Every ounce of energy was focused on not laughing, and wondering if the customer overheard what Reggie had just said.  There was no way I could make eye contact with the customer…just kept connecting cables…

When I got everything connected, and the computer booted right up, I finally looked up and said, “Looks like it’s working just fine.  Do you think maybe the surge strip had a problem?” 

The customer was happy to see the computer worked, and agreed to take a look at the surge strip.  Left him with my phone number and name, and bid him farewell.  He walked off, computer in hand…and I was left to wonder if he had heard…

Then I turned to Reggie… 

Balls deep?  You [stream of obscenities that don’t need to be recorded here.]”

I had simple lost the Tech game of chicken…but then again, the most degenerate of us would always win. 

And that brings us to this game...it’s a simple game of chicken.  Two terrible teams colliding on the field of battle, which one will sink the most degenerate levels?

This is the Dolphins best chance for a win...but they won’t do it.  Jets get the game, and Miami goes balls deep into 0-12. 

San Francisco at Carolina

Wow...who knew the Niners offense had that in them....

Raise your hand if you thought the Niners-Cards game would be a shoot out. 

Mike Nolan should be sending a fruit basket or other nice parting gift to Ken Wisenhut (for not calling a time out at prior to the FG) and Kurt Warner (for standing like a statue in his own endzone).  Ah, Cardinals football...it’s breath taking.  Can Denny Green come back now?

Meanwhile in Carolina...they have finally realized that David Carr is a complete waste of shoulder pads.  And so Vinny T will get the starts from here on out.  Trent Dilfer vs Vinny...what a great QB matchup. 

In a game that promises to be ugly, Carolina gets the win.  Can the 49ers go on another 8 game losing streak?  The answer is no....at least this season.

Seattle at Philadelphia

A few months ago, at the local Stop and Shop...it’s a grocery store for those in the West...the most amazing conversation was overheard at the register.... 

After grabbing the last few items on my list, I hauled my basket of goodies to the register.  In front of me were 2 ladies.  One was in the process of paying; the other had about 20 jars of peanuts on the conveyor belt.  They were all marked down to 50 cents...seeing this the first lady asked...

“Where did you find those?” 

“They were in the back corner.”

“Oh, I’ll have to run back there and grab some for my squirrels.” 

“I got the last of them.”

“Oh that’s too bad, my squirrels will be sad.  You wouldn’t want to part with a couple, would you?” 

“No, I’m donating these to a food bank I work with.”

“Well, I feed the squirrels around my house, cause squirrels aren’t like people, they can’t just go to the store and get food.  So I take care of them.” 

With that she left.

The lady with the nuts, the cashier and I just stood there dumb founded with what we had just heard...apparently, Squirrel lady was responsible for the survival of the whole squirrel population of Connecticut... 

...and we all know, squirrels can’t find their own food.

That seems to be the story with these 2 teams as well...they seem to have trouble finding their own food at times.  Some weeks, they look like a playoff team...then others they almost lose to the Rams, or barely beat the Dolphins. 

With a couple of squirrels trying to find a nut, it best to go with the home team.  The Eagles get the win, as the Hawks have major jet lag, and have trouble tracking down the nuts.  Now if AJ Feely ends up playing, and leads the Eagles to a second half revival, ala Jeff Garcia, what happens to McNabb?

Buffalo at Washington

It is not often that an active player dies.  It is even rarer to have an active player die midseason.  My thoughts and prayers go out to Taylor’s family and friends, the Redskins organization, and all their fans.  Just an ugly, tragic event to have occurred.  Dying that young, no matter whom the person is...it’s a tragedy of the highest degree. 

The Redskins win this game.  So often after a tragic event, a team is crystallized, and pushes forward with a great resolve.  That’s what this team will do...it’s one way to dull the pain of losing a teammate.

Detroit at Minnesota

While at Illinois State, the Men’s Basketball team went to 2 NCAA Tournaments.  The star of those teams was a player by the name of Rico Hill.  Rico was a good college player.  But his problem was he was a 6’ 6” power forward.  Something that works great in the Missouri Valley, but doesn’t translate to the pros.  But this didn’t phase him... 

It’s late afternoon at Best Buy.  We’re all milling about, around customer service.  All of a sudden I look over and see Rico Hill walk in.  Not a big deal, as the campus was just small enough that you saw the basketball players all the time...but still a cool site.  Him and his little buddy, walk over to customer service.

It turns out they want to return something...without a receipt...and want the cash, not store credit.  That’s not something that anyone will do...and they are refused.  That’s when Rico’s little buddy starts in... 

“Do you know who this is?  This is RICO HILL!  Only the greatest player to ever play at Illinois State!  Man, that’s not enough, this guy is the next Michael Jordan!”

Rico for his part just stood there quietly, with a big smile on his face.  They were refused again, and left...right after they left...we all burst into laughter.  Greatest player in ISU history? (Doug Collins holds all the meaningful ISU records, and played in the NBA)  The next Jordan?  He’s not even going to make the NBA!  Well, at least he’s surrounded himself with smart friends. 

That brings us to the subject of the Detroit Lions.  Playoff Team?  Nah, these guys are Rico Hill.  Good against the right competition, but not ready for the next level.  And lucky for them, they are catching a Vikings team that seems to be playing with renewed confidence...oh yeah, and their best player returns this week as well.

The Vikings get the win...and pull even with the Lions in the division.  And with Dallas, San Diego, Kansas City and Green Bay left on the schedule...the Lions chances at 10 wins...they don’t look too f***ing good.  So if the Lions free fall out of the playoffs...does Matt Millen finally get canned? 

Atlanta at St. Louis

Imagine for a moment that you flip on your local TV this weekend and find that the 2 early games in your area are Jets-Dolphins and Falcons-Rams.  Give it a moment to sink in…commence crying.

My theory on the “boring NFL weekend” programming...the weeks where you get NO good games on your local channels...is all a huge ploy by the NFL to get you to buy the Direct TV package.  Last week the problem was that none of the top 5 teams were playing on Sunday afternoon.    This week, we have a fantastic match-up...on Thursday, which no one will see.  And the Steelers and Pats play on Sunday and Monday night again. 

Either pull out the wallet and order up the DirectTV package...or suffer through the mind numbing experience of watching 2 bad teams, that are out of the playoffs, try not to get injured.  Ah, the flip side of the playoff race!

Who in a battle of “who cares”, the Falcons get the win.  While the Rams showed some life last week, they also showed that they don’t know how to win...and that’s not a good thing.  The Falcons have all kinds of issues, but they are at home, and that gives them enough of an edge here. 

Houston at Tennessee

The chronicles of my love affair with Vince Young are long, and sordid.  But my love has also been professed for one Andre Johnson.  Why these 2 players?  Not sure...love is not something you can easily explain.  What is clear, these 2 are just my “on the side” players...my one true love plays for the Bears....

But Young and Johnson have caused me much pain with these 2 teams...and so what happens when these teams meet?  In a battle for 3rd place in the South...do the Titans rise up?  Or do the Texans sneak passed them?  And are these 2 of the lamest helmets in the league? 

The slide continues...Texans eek out a win.  Matt Schaub and Johnson are too much for the Titans, and Vince just doesn’t have the soldiers to keep up with them.  Which means, the top of the AFC South will be cleared up for the winner of this game...

Jacksonville at Indianapolis

As a parent of a toddler, the greatest game in the world is one that requires little or no movement on my part.  Now let me explain…one of my greatest loves in this world is chasing my daughter around, rough housing with her, dancing with her, and just generally being a complete ham for her.  But there are times (Sundays for example) when I would like to be able to sit in one place, and still entertain her….and that’s where the game “Going to the Store” came from. 

Sitting in my basement, watching a NFL game, which means my daughter is with me to “watch football with Daddy”.  While she does watch parts of the games…loves cheering for touchdowns, watching people get tackled…and loves the ball getting kicked (which is always followed with her saying “and boom goes the ball!”)…she has a short attention span for the games, and often wants me to entertain her.  That’s when I said…

“What do we need from the store?” 

“Um…I don’t know.” (Her favorite expression, which she picked up from my constant use of it with my wife.)

“You know what, we need ice cream!” 

“Yeah!”

“Why don’t you go to the store and get some?  Here’s some money.” As I reach into my pocket and pretend to give her some money.  

With that she runs off into the playroom area of the basement to get some ice cream, returning in a few minutes to share it with me, and then head out for more food.  This can go on for hours.  Until one day…

“I think we need some rice from the store.” 

“Okay.”

“You’re back already from the store?” 

“They’re all out of rice.”

“Oh no, they’re all out of rice?” 

“Fudge [The mother of all swear words], they are all out of rice.”

And there is was, clear as day…the dreaded F-bomb.  My daughter just dropped it on me, and she’s not even 3.  But I didn’t get upset, didn’t even react.  Hey, at least she used it in the right context.  And she hasn’t said it since. 

But Josh, what does that have to do with this game?

Trust me, Indy is saying to themselves right now… 

“Fudge, we’re all out of players.”

Indy has been getting by with a ragtag bunch of players…calmly going back and forth to the store, getting the job done…but now Addai is hurt, and possibly out…and here comes a team that always plays them tough…and is riding high right now…fudge is the only word that comes to mind. 

The Jags get the win, and make the South a real race to the finish.  Indy just has too many injuries right now…but they know it doesn’t matter, as long as they get healthy come playoff time.  But buckle up Indy fans, this is going to be a bumpy ride to the finish line.

Denver at Oakland

Hey!  The Bears are 3-1 vs the AFC West!!  Is there any way the schedule could change so the Bears just play AFC West teams from here on out?  No?  No way?  What if we slipped you a fiver?  Still not happening?  Alright, we’ll play the normal schedule. 

This is another one of those games that’s hard to call, because both these teams have been all over the place.  Particularly the Broncos…they’ll beat the Steelers one week, and then look terrible against then get lit up by the Lions a couple weeks later.  Just a whacky team, and a whacky season. 

For whatever reasons… call it... fate, call it luck, call it karma…the Raiders get the win.  Plain and simple, they should have gotten the win in the first meeting…and now it comes full circle.  FG wins the game on the last play…trust me. 

San Diego at Kansas City

One of the nightmares of every Best Buy Tech, was getting stuck on the phone explaining or working through an issue with a customer.  Some calls were simple…”No, the monitor does need to be on for you to see anything”…while others entered into the unreal.  But as long as you weren’t the one on the phone, it was pure entertainment.

There was a particular call that caught Reggie unaware…he was on the phone with the customer for over an hour trying to get the user’s flatbed scanner working.  He had walked through every normal troubleshooting step, had been extremely patient, and had even ventured into the abnormal troubleshooting steps.  He was at his wits end, and finally said “Can we try it one more time?”

The hopeful expression on Reggie’s face sunk.  All he could manage was a simple, “Can you walk me through what you’re doing…step by step…” 

A few moments passed…I turned my attention to a computer I was working on…then there was a loud thud.  Turning, I saw the phone on the ground, and Reggie staring at me with a look on his face that was somewhere between rage and bewilderment.

“I can’t believe this,” he said as he picked up the phone… 

“Sir, there is no reason to hold your scanner up to the screen to scan a picture from the internet onto your computer.  No, the scanner is for scanning pictures that aren’t on the PC into the computer.  Yes…no, for that all you need to do is right click and choose ‘Save As’.  Yep, have a great day.”

To this day, the only reason I believe that story is cause I was there…you can’t make stuff like that up…you just can’t. 

Just like you can’t make up stuff like the Chargers canning their coach after going 14-2…hiring a coach that has never won as a head coach, and then watching their uber talented team flounder to a 6-5 record.

But then again…Herm Edwards is standing on the other sideline…and the Chiefs have a mighty 2-4 home record…ugh. 

Chargers get the win, and thanks to the struggles of the rest of the division get a strangle hold on the division lead.  Before anyone starts parading down the street about a division championship and what not…this team is 1 and done in the playoffs.  And if they’re smart, they’ll be 1 and done with Norv.

Cleveland at Arizona

This is a great match-up, one that most would be happy to have on in their local area.  First you have 2 offenses that like to sling the ball…and 2 defenses that like to let offenses sling it. 

And then you have the “Team that can’t lose” and the “Team that can’t win”.  Just a great all around match-up.  If there is any justice in this world, this game would be on in my local area just to make up for last week.

Always go with the team with the mojo in these situations…Browns win.  Would not be shocked to see a 38-35 game in this one, so at the very least, flip over to this game a few times, it should be fun.  What’s nuts?  Cleveland would go to 8-4…and with the struggles of the Ravens and Bengals…they would basically lock up 2nd place in the AFC North!  Great turn around by Romeo and the boys. 

Tampa Bay at New Orleans

One of the greatest commercials on TV right now for Christmas is the Home Depot commercial.  The premise is simple, and yet every time it makes me chuckle.  For those that don’t know what I’m talking about…

The commercial starts with a family sitting around the Christmas tree…and the dad goes “Kids, I think I hear Santa!” 

They race outside, and look up on the roof…only to see a Table Saw with a big bow around it.

“A table saw, alright Santa!” The dad shouts. 

After the usual “buy all this stuff” section, we return to the simple line…

“Hey look, he also got us a ladder!” 

Don’t know what it is, just makes me laugh each time.  Maybe cause I can totally see myself doing that…or maybe it’s cause there are power tools involved…or maybe…I just like to laugh.  But it gets me every time.

That’s how the Saints are as well…every time they win, they get me.  And here they are coming off a win…and here I am trying not to chuckle at a table saw on the roof.  As long as I haven’t been drinking, we should be okay… 

Guess I shouldn’t have had those beers at lunch.  Saints win and the race to the finish in the NFC South is on!  Plus, any time Jeff Garcia is your QB, and he gets injured…well…if he’s you’re starter…um…what does that say about your backup?  Does that make sense?

NY Giants at Chicago

Another famous game that the Tech bench had was coming up with unbelievable things to tell customers…yes, we were evil…but the large majority of the time these stories never actually made it to a customer’s ear…our favorite one, was the cup of water.  The story went like this… 

If you’re looking to speed up your computer, simply open up the case, and place a small cup of water on the processor.  A Dixie cup works fine.  Run the computer like you normally would, and the processor will heat up the cup of water, and the moisture released by the heated water will improve the computer’s performance.  It’s basically a super cheap cooling system; everyone knows that a fine mist cools you off on a hot day, this works on the same principle.

The cup of water story started as a joke between myself and another tech…and as each tech heard it, people added their own little info to it…and it grew into the perfect fake story.  So much so, that one day, one of our not so bright techs decided to bust it out on a particularly ornery customer.  Let me just say…if I hadn’t of stepped in, there might be one less PC tech in the world. 

The story seemed so perfect…it seemed like it was something you could say straight faced, and that a customer would buy…when we were all talking behind closed doors.  But most of us knew that behind closed doors was the only place it worked….except that one guy.

That brings us to Giants and Bears fans… 

Giants fans are sitting in groups, convincing themselves that the late season swoons the last couple seasons were due to injuries…and not the coaching staff or players that are on the team.

Bears fans are sitting in groups, convincing themselves that the playoffs are not out of reach and that at 5-6, anything can happen. 

It all sounds great behind closed doors.  Too bad they play the game on the field.

The Giants swoon starts to become more real, as they drop an easy in Chicago.  The Bears get the win behind…what else…the big play.  Eli gives a few more gifts, as his late season struggles continue, and Devin “One Man Scoring Machine” Hester does his magic once again.  Suddenly the Bears are 6-6…hey the playoffs are a possibility…have you ever tried a cup of water in your computer? 

Cincinnati at Pittsburgh

How can the Steelers top last week’s game?  It’s just not possible.  Not an epic battle in the rain and much like that, there is no possible way they top that game.  As slow moving as that game was…it kept you watching.  Have you ever played football in the mud?  Used to do it all the time in high school….the Jr high had this big field that always flooded, and we would play tackle football in it for hours…great time.

And here were pros doing the exact same thing.  And as the game wound down…you knew that one play would make the difference…and you kept waiting for it… 

And then it ended with a short field goal, and that was it.  It was like watching a pitchers duel in baseball, where the bloop single in the 9th wins it all…doesn’t play as well in the NFL, but still fun to see every once in awhile.

This game will be nothing like that. 

Nope, expect the old 35-28 kind of game.  Both offenses will be moving the ball up and down the field…and both defenses will be running to catch up.  The Bengals are starting to click in the passing game…and that’s the one spot where the Steelers D has issues.

But in the end, it’s not rocket surgery (sorry, just overheard that one).  The Steelers have a good defense, the Bengals have 11 guys that sort of run around on the field.  Steelers win.  If you have any Steelers in Fantasy, play them this week…should be a good one. 

New England at Baltimore

Working at Best Buy meant that it was required of all of us to work the Friday after Thanksgiving.  It was Best Buy law.  And so for the 2 and half years this ol’boy worked the day after Thanksgiving.  Talk about a surreal event.

Only once did I ever work the morning shift…since I went back to Chicago for Turkey day, making it back down to Normal early in the morning was pretty tough…but that once was enough. 

Approaching the entrance an hour before opening…not only was there already a line about 50 deep outside the door, but as you got to the door to get in, several customers tried to come in with you.  Um, folks, we can’t sell you anything till we open…so even if you got in there, nothing would happen.

Once the doors open…oh the horror!  Streams of people bum rushing the place, cutting each other off, and actually pushing people to get to the big “deals”. 

Let me give you a little secret about the “deals”…it’s all last year’s inventory that the store NEEDS to get rid of.  The year I was there, we were selling a PC for $115, and everyone wanted one…but the thing was like 2 years old, and out of the box could barely warm toast, let alone check email.  But every one of them were gone an hour after open.

As amazing as that initial rush was…that better part was in the afternoon when customers would stroll in and say things like: 

“Hey, where are the $115 computers?  What do you mean you don’t have any?  This is a crock.  I’m suing this place.”

Or some similar rant.  It didn’t help to point out that the ad clearly said “supplies limited, no rainchecks”. 

Monday night, the Pats will bum rush the store…and the Ravens will be wondering where all the computers went…and threatening to sue someone.  Oh yeah, that blue print that the Eagles supposedly gave everyone on how to beat the Pats?  The whole “Pressure Brady and play physical on the WRs”…yeah, that’s called “solid football”, not “secret plan to beat Pats”.

Pats win this one going away.  The Ravens D looks old and slow…especially with no healthy CBs.  And the Offense…well, this ain’t Cleveland they’re playing.  And as a bonus we get to listen to Tony K try to bait Jaws into saying the Pats will go undefeated…fun.

With each passing week, we get into a weird situation in terms of the games.  For some teams the heat turns up, and so the games become epic battles, fights to the death, wars to end all wars…but for the teams that find themselves hopelessly out of the race?  Those games can be some of the most lackluster, boring, sleep walking events of all time.  This is coming from someone that can watch any team, any game, any time…but at least show a little heart.

But yours truly has got other things on the brain…what do you get a 3 year old for Christmas?  When is the latest date we can ship out Christmas gifts?  Is leasing a Lexus for the wife acceptable?  Could I get a table saw on the roof?  Would a cup of water really speed up my computer? 

Do the Bears really have a shot to make the playoffs?

Don’t know about you, but that’s a lot of rationalizing to do for the next few weeks…better get started.

Author's note: While writing this, I realized that I didn't have many good Christmas shopping stories...because I tend to do my shopping online, habit of my profession...so for those of you that do brave the jungle of Christmas shoppers...what's the craziest thing you've seen? 

Finally, if these don't float your boat...well...you can always watch Dan channel Horatio Caine. 

Finally, again, if you want to see Dan and I match wits...yes, it's a short battle...you can always check out the Friday debate. 

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